John MacDonald Stand (Exhibition Showgrounds, Brisbane's Bowen Hills)
The history of exhibition on the site of the Brisbane Exhibition Grounds dates to August 1876, with the staging of the first Queensland Intercolonial Exhibition. None of the buildings extant in 1876 have survived, but the grounds have increased substantially from an original 12 acres, and contain a variety of structures and facilities associated with the annual August Exhibition, which date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries to the present. The site has been the venue for Queensland's principal agricultural, pastoral and industrial exhibitions for over 125 years. It remains the home of the annual Royal Queensland Show and is Queensland's premier showground. Since 1876 only two annual exhibitions on this site have been cancelled: the 1919 Exhibition due to the influenza epidemic, and in 1942 when the grounds were occupied by military personnel. Prior to the establishment of the Exhibition Grounds in 1876, the site was part of the Queensland Acclimatisation Society's grounds. In July 1863 this Society, established in 1862 to promote the introduction, acclimatization, propagation and distribution in Queensland of economically useful plants and animals, was granted 33 acres of land bounded by Bowen Bridge Road, O'Connell Terrace, Brookes Street and Gregory Terrace. At the northwestern corner of the site, fronting Bowen Bridge Road and O'Connell Terrace, the Society established a public exhibition garden [Bowen Park]. The remainder of the site was used for experimentation purposes, growing and propagating plants and seeds sent from other parts of Queensland, other colonies, and around the world, and raising various introduced animals. The Society played an important role in the beginnings of commercial agriculture in Queensland, introducing or trialling crops and plants such as mango trees, ginger plants, sugar cane, olive trees and choko vines. Queensland's 1876 Intercolonial Exhibition was not the first competitive demonstration of agricultural and industrial progress in the colony. In 1854 squatters from the Darling Downs and Moreton Bay districts of New South Wales established the Northern Districts' Agricultural and Pastoral Association, modelled on the Scottish Highland Agricultural Societies. They planned to hold exhibitions [mainly of pastoral produce] at Brisbane, Ipswich, Warwick, Drayton and Gayndah, in rotation, and some shows were held before the Association became immersed in more political activities. Nurseryman AJ Hockings was instrumental in holding horticultural shows in Brisbane from 1855. In the 1860s other regional agricultural and pastoral associations were formed, among the earliest being the Darling Downs Agricultural Society [based at Toowoomba] in 1860, the Drayton and Toowoomba Agricultural and Horticultural Society in 1864, the East Moreton Farmers Association [based at Ipswich] in 1866 and the Eastern Downs Horticultural and Agricultural Association [based at Warwick] in 1867. These Associations conducted annual exhibitions of agricultural, horticultural, and pastoral produce and farm machinery. Prizes were awarded for best exhibits. The object was to encourage the exchange of knowledge and to foster better farm practice. Associations such as these proliferated in Queensland during the second half of the 19th century, and each held an annual 'show'. In 1874 moves were initiated by Queensland's Chief Inspector of Stock, Patrick Robertson Gordon, to form a national agricultural society, to plan Brisbane's first intercolonial exhibition. He was supported by Gresley Lukin, editor of the Brisbane Courier and the Queenslander, and agricultural agent John Fenwick. In May 1875 an inaugural meeting, presided over by the Governor, Sir William Wellington Cairns, was held to form the National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland. A constitution drafted by the headmaster of the Brisbane Grammar School, Thomas Harlin, was adopted in July, and the first meeting of the National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland was held at the Brisbane Town Hall on 13 August 1875. Arthur Hunter Palmer, later premier of Queensland, was elected to the chair and other founding members included Joshua Peter Bell, George Harris, George Gromes, Thomas Harlin, Charles Stewart Mein and William Hemmant. At this meeting use of part of the Queensland Acclimatisation Society's grounds was discussed, and subsequently a lease of about 12 acres from the Society was arranged. The alliance with the Acclimatisation Society was considered to be a sensible arrangement. There were common interests, the site was well supplied with water and convenient to the city, and it was thought at the time that many women and townspeople, who might have hesitated in visiting a purely utilitarian exhibition of produce, animals and farm machinery, may have been induced by the additional attraction of the Acclimatisation Society Gardens. The Intercolonial Exhibition was intended to promote and showcase the agricultural, pastoral and industrial resources of the whole of Queensland. Whether it could be sustained beyond a single exhibition remained to be seen. The National Association did not wish to supplant regional agricultural societies and associations, but wished to encourage their organisation, and foster a spirit of friendly rivalry amongst them by holding a grand central exhibition for the competition of winners at minor shows [BC 25 October 1875]. To avoid clashing with local shows, and in order to hold the exhibition during fine weather, before the shearing season, and when good feed would be found along the roads, it was decided to stage the Exhibition in August 1876. The first exhibition building was a large timber hall with side aisles and a central clerestory. It was erected in 1876 along Gregory Terrace near the corner of Bowen Bridge Road, at a cost of £1254, and was a modification of a design prepared by Queensland Colonial Architect FDG Stanley. Sydney exhibitor Jules Joubert added a rectangular wing to the northern side to increase the extent of his exhibition. Cattle, sheep and horse stalls of hardwood framing with corrugated iron roofing were erected in the grounds, and a small showring was established north of the Exhibition Building. The first Queensland Intercolonial Exhibition was declared open by Governor Cairns on Tuesday 22 August 1876, and ran until 28 August. It proved immensely popular, with a total of £1045 taken at the gate. Thereafter, the Exhibition became an annual event. In the period 1876-1888, the National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland expended an estimated £7000 on the grounds. The main exhibition building was doubled in size for the 1877 exhibition, and another annexe was provided for horticultural exhibits. In 1879, the National Association was awarded a lease of 23 acres of the 32 acre Acclimatisation Society grounds for a period of 50 years, for use as an exhibition ground. In 1881 the railway to Sandgate was constructed through the National Association and Acclimatisation Society grounds. [The line was later re-routed via Central Station, Brunswick Street and Bowen Hills, but the Exhibition Line still opens each year during the August show.] By 1882, the Exhibition Grounds comprised all the land south, southeast and east of the railway line and bounded by Bowen Bridge Road, Gregory Terrace, Brookes Street and O'Connell Terrace. A 1000 seat capacity grandstand, designed by Stanley, was erected in 1885 [not the first grandstand on the site]. In 1887 a timber residence designed by GHM Addison was constructed at the corner of O'Connell Terrace and Brookes Street for the Secretary of the National Association. In 1887 the first exhibition building was destroyed by fire. The public called for it to be replaced with a masonry building, but the National Association was reluctant to commit to the necessary expenditure without more secure land tenure, against which they could borrow money for permanent exhibition buildings. In 1888 a temporary timber exhibition building was constructed for approximately £500, while the National Association called for competitive designs for a permanent exhibition building. Under the provisions of the National Association and Acclimatisation Society Act 1890, the land leased from the Queensland Acclimatisation Society for an exhibition ground was resumed and granted to the National Association as Trustees, who were also empowered under this act to borrow money from the Queensland Government to erect the new exhibition building. The design competition was won by GHM Addison, the Brisbane partner of the Melbourne-based firm Oakden Addison and Kemp. In 1890 Addison amended his original design to a T-shape, incorporating a southern wing with a concert hall which could be rented out to offset repayments on the government loan. The new building was erected closer to the corner of Bowen Bridge Road and Gregory Terrace than the original building. The foundation stone was laid on 25 April 1891 and the builder, John Quinn, was required to have a section of the building completed for the August 1891 exhibition, with the whole of the building to be completed within 12 months. A plan of the Exhibition Grounds published in The Queenslander on 15 August 1891 shows the new exhibition building, several smaller pavilions, a show ring in the position of the present main show ring, the 1885 grandstand [where the Ernest Baynes Stand is now located], animal shelters along the boundaries, and the secretary's residence near Brookes Street. The new exhibition building was completed in 1892 and a public holiday was declared for 10 August 1982 to mark the official opening of the Exhibition. Despite the economic depression, 32,000 people attended on the holiday and more than 66,000 over the four-day course of the Exhibition. However, the National Association did not escape the effects of the 1890s depression, struggling to repay the government loan on the exhibition building. In 1897 the colonial government resumed the building and liquidated the Association's debts. The Exhibition Concert Hall continued to serve as a concert venue but the remainder of the Exhibition Building was refurbished for the Queensland Museum, which moved to the building from William Street in 1899. At this time the museum grounds were resumed from the National Association's land as a separate reserve. The National Association struggled to maintain the viability of the remaining Exhibition Grounds until 1902-03, when the Queensland government took control of the Association's assets, leasing the Exhibition Grounds back to the Association at an annual rental. In the early 1900s the Queensland economy revived, and the National Association's financial position firmed. Substantial improvements and re-arrangements of the Exhibition Grounds were made in 1906 in time for the August show. A fine new grandstand, designed by Brisbane architect Claude William Chambers, was erected at a cost of £6248. [In 1923, this stand was re-named the John MacDonald Stand in honour of a long-serving National Association councillor]. The side show booths which had been located on the hill to the north of the main ring, were moved to the valley on the northwest side of the railway, their place being taken by machinery exhibits. The hill has since been known as Machinery Hill, and the valley as Sideshow Alley. In 1909, the year of the Jubilee Exhibition [celebrating 50 years since the separation of Queensland from New South Wales], the Exhibition Grounds were extended with the acquisition of Petty's Paddock, an adjacent 6 acres bounded by Gregory Terrace and Alexandria, Science and Water streets, purchased for £4500. About 1910 a two-storeyed timber building with pressed metal ceilings and a prominent roof flêche, was erected along the northern side of Gregory Terrace near the main entrance. A section of this building was utilized as a Post Office by August 1933. During the First World War [1914-18], a military recruiting and training camp, completed with rifle range, was established at the Exhibition Grounds, but this did not prevent the annual Exhibition from proceeding. In the 1910s Brisbane architects Richard Gailey snr and Richard Gailey jnr established a relationship with the National Association which was to last through the 1920s and 1930s. In May 1914 they called tenders for the construction of a sheep, pig and poultry pavilion, and fencing along Gregory Terrace, and in 1917 for timber dog and horse pavilions. In 1917, Toowoomba's Austral Hall [designed by architect William Hodgen and erected in 1904] was purchased for £1500 and re-erected at the Brisbane Exhibition Grounds. It was the largest building of its type in Queensland. Reflecting the growing popularity of the motor car, the pavilion was occupied by representatives of the local automobile trade. It was the first Brisbane Exhibition pavilion to be dedicated solely to motor vehicle displays, automobile exhibits previously being located on Machinery Hill. In 1919 Austral Hall was renamed the John Reid Pavilion following the death that year of Brisbane merchant John Reid, a long-time supporter of the National Association. Affleck House was completed by August 1918 for the showtime use of Stock Breeders' Association delegates. It was named after National Association councillor WL Affleck, who raised the finance for the construction. During the influenza epidemic which swept Australia in 1919, following the return of service personnel from overseas at the end of the First World War, army huts were erected at the exhibition grounds as isolation wards for the nearby Brisbane General Hospital, and dining rooms were set up to feed and house the expected influx of seriously ill patients. Due to the threat of crowd contagion, and to save disturbing patients in the isolation wards, the Exhibition was cancelled that year. In 1920 the Prince of Wales [later Edward VIII] visited the Exhibition, following which the Association moved to incorporate the word 'Royal' into its name as the Royal National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland, which over the years has been reduced, unofficially, to the Royal National Association [RNA]. In recent years the RNA has registered as its trademark the word 'Ekka' [a long-standing colloquial shortening of the work 'Exhibition']. During the interwar years many improvements were made to the exhibition grounds, with various buildings erected or extended during this period. A timber show hall was erected c1921 between Gregory Terrace and Water Street, and a brick exhibition building, designed by architects Atkinson & Conrad, was constructed in 1923 for Lever Bros of Sydney. In 1922-23 the Ernest Baynes Stand was erected on the site of the 1885 grandstand. Designed by architect Richard Gailey Jnr and constructed by John Hutchinson, the building had two tiers with a seating capacity of 5000 and a total capacity of 7000. It was constructed with a steel frame faced with brick, the larger steel sections being imported from Britain and the smaller sections made in Australia. The foundation stone of the new grandstand was laid by Governor, Sir Matthew Nathan, in November 1922, and the stand was completed in time for the August 1923 Exhibition, at a cost of £26,884. The sub-floor contained a dining room which could accommodate 600 persons at a sitting, and a row of ten shops facing the lane at the rear of the structure. A second show ring, intended principally for exhibiting dairy cattle, was established to the north of the railway line which transects the Exhibition Grounds, and was ready for the show of 1924. Its construction reflected the growing importance of the dairy industry to Queensland where, with Government encouragement, it became the State's second largest primary industry and sustained rural Queensland during the depression of the 1930s. By 1925 the RNA Council Stand, located adjacent to the Ernest Baynes Stand overlooking the show ring, had been constructed. The Stand was originally two storeys. At some early period the northern end of the building was extended to incorporate an entrance to the seating in front of the stand. By 1938 a third storey had been added to the building, and later a two-storeyed extension facing Executive Street was constructed. In 1927 legislation was enacted to grant the National Association perpetual lease of the grounds, at that time comprising just under 20 acres. There followed a burst of ground improvements, mostly designed by architect Richard Gailey jnr, including a dog pavilion, meat exhibition pavilion, more turnstiles, and a new lavatory block in 1927; and new horse and cattle stalls, and turnstiles at the corner of Costin Street and Gregory Terrace, in 1928. Also erected in 1928 were show pavilions for General Motors Pty Ltd, Brisbane Cars & Tractors Ltd, the Vacuum Oil Co. [concrete structure], and the Kodak Company Ltd, and a demonstration fibrous cement cottage designed by architect EP Trewern for James Hardie & Co. At this period the RNA sought to make the grounds a first-class venue for cricket, football and other sports, but had limited success in attracting the big matches. The year 1928 was a high point for the Association's sporting ambitions, with the showground the venue for the first England versus Australia cricket test in Queensland, and the first in the 1928-29 series. Legendary Australian cricketer Donald Bradman made his Test debut at the Brisbane Exhibition Grounds in 1928. More successful than cricket or football was Exhibition Speedway, established in 1926. A new Lady Forster Creche was opened in Costin Street, near the main entrance to the Exhibition Grounds, in time for the 1928 show. [Previously the creche was located on the main showgrounds north of Gregory Terrace.] The centre was operated by the Creche and Kindergarten Association and provided baby care while parents were enjoying the rounds of the show. In 1939 the Creche was removed to a new location near the Anglican dining hall, north of Gregory Terrace. In 1929 the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, which since 1923 had been conducting a bank at the Exhibition Grounds during the annual show, constructed a purpose-designed bank building in the grounds, just to the south of the Council Stand. Although it was not uncommon for banks to establish agencies at showgrounds around Australia, this building is believed to be the only 'exhibition' bank building specifically constructed for the Commonwealth Bank. The northeast end of the building was extended in 1947. Despite the severe economic depression of the early 1930s, the Exhibition continued to attract its strong annual August attendance. More land was acquired, including a further 2 acres 23 perches excised from Bowen Park in 1932, bringing the total Exhibition Grounds to about 40 acres. Improvements to the grounds at this period included more cattle stalls along O'Connell Terrace [architect Richard Gailey jnr] and a new show pavilion for Foggitt Jones Pty Ltd [architects Addison & MacDonald] in 1932; and a new dairy produce hall [architect Richard Gailey jnr] for the RNA in 1933. As the economy recovered during the second half of the 1930s a number of substantial improvements were made to the RNA's exhibition facilities. In 1936 Gailey called tenders for a Wool Hall, additions to the pig and horse pavilions, new Stock & Station Agents' Offices and Dining Hall, and a new yearling sale ring. New concrete roads and additional seating accommodation were provided. The old Industrial Pavilion was demolished in 1938 and its replacement, designed by Richard Gailey jnr and covering an area of 3.5 acres, was completed along Gregory Terrace in June 1939 at a cost of £40,000. A new electricity hall at the corner of Gregory Terrace and Costin Street was also completed for the 1939 show - reputedly the first show pavilion in Australia dedicated entirely to electricity exhibits. [The Hall of Science, as it was later known, was demolished in 1986 to make way for a new Exhibition Building]. During the Second World War, the Exhibition Grounds were occupied from late 1939 to 1944 by military authorities as a venue for training, accommodation and embarkation of troops. [Showgrounds and racecourses with their ovals and existing toilet facilities were favoured places to temporarily accommodate service personnel.] Troops at the exhibition grounds slept in pig and cattle pens; the bars beneath the John MacDonald Stand became wet canteens; and troop trains departed from the railway platforms normally used by show patrons. In 1940 and again in 1941, the military vacated the grounds temporarily for the August Exhibition. Following the entry of Japan into the war in December 1941, American troops were stationed at the showgrounds and the Exhibition of 1942 was cancelled, but was renewed in a limited fashion in 1943 and 1944. Following the war the RNA purchased a number of buildings from the military, for use on the site. The 1950s saw further improvements and works to the grounds with the construction of a Beef Cattle Pavilion in 1950, the work being carried out by MR Hornibrook Builders at a cost of £206,000, and the addition of seating around the main oval near Machinery Hill. Also constructed in the 1950s was a new Dairy Industry Hall, adjacent to the John Reid Pavilion, on the site of the 1933 dairy hall. By the late 1950s, the grounds comprised approximately 50 acres. A number of new buildings were erected in the 1960s. In 1962 the RNA moved its offices from the Queensland Primary Producers Association building in Adelaide Street to the Exhibition Grounds, and in 1970 a purpose-built RNA Administration Building costing $111,584 was opened. In 1963, on land acquired along Constance Street, a double pavilion known as the Agricultural Hall and Douglas Wadley Pavilion was constructed. The Agricultural Hall housed district and junior farmer exhibits. The Douglas Wadley Pavilion, extended in 1968 and again in 1977, housed dogs, and is used regularly for exhibitions in addition to the annual August show. In 1968 the Ring Control and Broadcast building was enlarged. By 1970, the grounds comprised approximately 55 acres. The first animal nursery was established by RNA councillor Frank Robertson at the 1964 show. It has proved one of the must popular and enduring of the show traditions, and has been copied by show societies throughout Australia. At the 1972 Exhibition a purpose-built facility for the animal nursery was opened, named in honour of Mr Robertson. In the late 1960s the face of Sideshow Alley, traditionally home to the weird and wonderful, began to change. The tents and booths largely disappeared, to be replaced with high technology rides, tests of skill, and popular music entertainment. Controversy was generated in 1971 when the Queensland Government declared a state of emergency from 13 July to 2 August, during the South African Springbok Rubgy team tour, when demonstrations against apartheid were held in Brisbane and throughout Australia. The main show ring at the Exhibition Ground was commandeered to host the matches, as a safe distance could be maintained between spectators and would-be protesters. A two metre high chain wire fence was erected to separate spectators from players. A new two-storeyed brick building for use by the police during the annual show was completed for the 1971 Exhibition. It was located inside the main entrance from Gregory Terrace, and replaced an earlier timber building. A new Members Stand was constructed in the 1970s. Improvements and new buildings in the 1980s included: the refurbishment of the John MacDonald Stand in 1985; the construction of a new Exhibition Building in 1986 on the site of the Hall of Science building, at a cost of $2.5 million [with State Government assistance]; removal of the top seating tier of the Ernest Baynes Stand in 1986, following the Bradford Stadium collapse in London that year; and the opening on 28 November 1988 of the Walter Burnett Building, designed by architects Hulme and Webster, adjacent to the Frank Nicklin Pavilion which accommodates fine arts exhibitions. The auditorium of the Walter Burnett Building seats 1000 people and is equipped with a stage and dance floor. Besides its importance to the annual Exhibition, the building is in constant use for all sorts of activities, including expositions, balls and conferences. It was also the venue for the first public airing of the Fitzgerald Inquiry Report on corruption in Queensland, on 3 July 1989. In 2008, Bowen Hills – including the area of the Brisbane Exhibition Grounds – was declared an Urban Development Area under the Urban Land Development Act 2007 (replaced by the Economic Development Act 2012, with the term Priority Development Area superseding the term Urban Development Area). The RNA launched a project to redevelop the showgrounds and in 2009, property and infrastructure company, Lend Lease, was selected as the RNA’s redevelopment partner. In 2010 the RNA and Lend Lease unveiled plans for the ‘Brisbane Showgrounds Regeneration Project’, a redevelopment of 5.5ha of the 22ha site; comprising an upgrade to the showgrounds’ facilities and the inclusion of new office, retail and residential spaces. This involved the demolition and clearing of various buildings and areas – mostly concentrated in the southeastern portion of the site (bounded by Alexandria Street, St Pauls Terrace, Costin Street, Constance Street and Gregory Terrace). Buildings and areas demolished or removed by 2015 included: the Frank Nicklin Pavilion, Walter Burnett Building and Auditorium, Agricultural Hall and Douglas Wadley Pavilion, Frank Roberston Pavilion, Building No.4, Main Parade Food Stall and Show Time Snack Bar, Agricultural Street Bar, Machinery Street Fish Place, Agricultural Open Area, Industrial Open Area, Police Exhibit, and chairlift. The plans for the project were approved in 2010 and construction began in April 2011. The project is expected to take 15 years to complete, at a projected cost of $2.9 billion. The association with regional Queensland and the rural tradition has been and will remain central to the character of the Brisbane Exhibition and the grounds in which it is held, but the RNA has incorporated new ideas and technology to meet the expectations of today's show patrons. In recent years new attractions at the Exhibition Grounds have included communications technology displays. Source: Queensland Heritage Register.